It was the spring of 1988. Morgan area farmer Galen Engholm was planting corn by day, studying his lines by night and heading into town for several hours of play practice by 9 p.m. most evenings. “We were raising money for the new swimming pool,” Engholm explained, “and we had started practice really late. “Everybody in the play was working and we just went full speed ahead.”
The cast and crew pulled it off, raised $1,600 for the new pool – and started a community tradition. Every year since then, beginning in late January or early February, a play is chosen, parts are assigned and a new production hits the stage – well before corn planting time. This year’s production, “Night at the Wax Museum,” will open April 8 for its three-day run. And yes, Engholm, who will be 70 years old on his next birthday, will be a part of this year’s cast. He has played a part in each of the 23 annual Morgan Community Players productions. “And he’s never getting out,” Char Carlson said. (It should be noted that Carlson was smiling as she made this statement, but did not appear to be joking.) Actually, it seems that once the Morgan play bug bites, most stay with the production for as many years as circumstances will allow. Carlson, one of this year’s directors, has been a part of the Morgan Players for 21 years. “We just came to see the play,” she said. “Afterwards, I told my husband I want to be a part of that.” Fellow director, Jim Lueken, has been part of the players for the past 22 years. “The majority of the cast members keep it up year after year,” Lueken said. This year, there are 10 new thespians in the cast of 29. Try-outs are kept as stress-free as possible. Prior acting experience, while often the case, is not a prerequisite. Engholm and Lueken, for example, both participated in their respective junior and senior class plays at Morgan High School. Carlson, an import from Heron Lake, was also involved in high school speech. “We have a reading and basically if you can read you’re probably in,” Lueken said, grinning. “Jim and I do the assigning,” Char said, “and try to figure out which part fits with who.” The Players generally choose comedies for their annual production  –  and often murder-mystery comedies. “‘Night at the Wax Museum’ is one of the few we’ve done that have not had a murder in them,” Lueken said. Practices, which start in late January or early February, are held – as is the finished product – in the Cedar Mountain High School auditorium in Morgan.  The cast practices every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, working around weather, basketball games, church activities and vacations. While each actor spends a great deal of time diligently learning his or her lines and there are prompters and the directors ready to assist, ad-libbing has become expected. “A lot of things happen on stage,” Engholm said. “There is a lot of prank stuff going on all the time.” The trio reminisced about a particular community actor who always wore a toupee and had worn the hairpiece for so many years that many of the younger people in town had no idea the hair was a piece. The actor went off-script during the production, removed his toupee and hung it on the end of the on-stage sofa. Another actor, a local pastor, came and – well – blew his nose in it. “We try to involve the crowd, too,” Lueken said. “Some people we know are there will find their names used on stage.” Ad-libbing, however, is not without its price. “We’ve lost pages (of the script) and came back to them,” Lueken said. It’s all in fun and enjoyed by everyone involved. “We are one big happy family,” Engholm said. “It’s fun and it’s brought a lot of people together – brought some out of their shells.” Even those who have not been bitten by the acting bug get involved.  This year, the Lions Club will host a spaghetti meal in the school cafeteria prior to one evening’s play. “It’s like a dinner theater,” Engholm smiled. “Kind of a scaled-back Chanhassen.” Like the Lions spaghetti, the community theatre started as a fund raiser and continues to be a fund raiser. The very first play raised $1,600 for the Morgan pool. Since then, the Players have donated between $2,000 and $3,000 every year to the pool and other community projects. “That’s what is so unique about our play,” Carlson said. “We don’t keep the money, it goes back into the community.” Those attending “Night at the Wax Museum” will likely learn a little history as they are entertained. “As wax figures, we have no idea where we are,” Engholm, who plays the part of The Sundance Kid, said. “There are lady pirates in the cast who think they are still in the fifteen hundreds.” Fortunately, there are “students” on a community service project at the museum who are able to help Cleopatra, Butch Cassidy, Blackbeard, Henry the VIII – and a few others – solve the mystery. The Morgan Community Players involve bankers, lawyers, teachers, preachers, farmers. It’s an overall community thing. “Everybody in town’s been pretty supportive,” Engholm said. “They keep saying it’s the best one ever.”